It's been a week since the conclusion of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process, a partisan side show that left a bitter taste in the mouths of many voters -- whether they supported his confirmation or opposed it.
Now we are left with the political and social consequences of what transpired on the floor of the US Senate. Policymakers have been threatened in person and on social media, envelopes filled with suspicious substances were sent to administration officials, and the home addresses of Republican senators were doxxed.
This may not all have to do with the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation, but the hyperbole on both sides fanned the flames of hatred and fear, and when you target the most extreme elements of human emotion, it can have dangerous consequences on the most vulnerable members of society.
No Clean Hands in the Swamp
There are some who believe it is false to say both sides are culpable in the regression of the nation's political landscape.
It's only the Republicans or only the Democrats who have degraded the conversation and do whatever they can to retain or garner power and control of the system.
The irony, of course, is this argument is a product of the "us-vs-them" politics that is at the heart of political dysfunction in the US. It's a battle of good vs evil. Our side is the good side; the other side is evil. And if voters support the other side it will be the destruction of the republic and everything they love and care about.
Americans watched the footage of protesters clashing in Charlottesville, where an alt-right activist used a car as a deadly weapon, killing 30-year-old Heather Heyer.
A small group of left-leaning activists were recently caught on video punching and kicking at cars in Portland, verbally assaulting people and threatening a man with physical violence. Portland police declared a riot after "far right" and Antifa protesters clashed.
President Trump has repeatedly said in his rallies that electing Democrats will turn the US into Venezuela and crime will run rampant as illegal aliens pour into the country unchecked.
Hillary Clinton says her party cannot be civil with Republicans who want to destroy Democratic values unless it wins back the House or Senate, and Eric Holder says, "When they (Republicans) go low, we kick them!"
Meanwhile, cable news outlets operate as echo chambers for one party or another, elevating the most extreme – or banal – of the opposing side to the fore of the national consciousness to show just how evil or witless the other side really is.
"See, the so-called tolerant left will use any means to get what they want." "See, conservatives are xenophobic racists who just want to squash the rights of women and people of color."
The truth is: In the Swamp, nobody's hands are clean.
And unfortunately, what gets lost in this hyper-partisan, hyperbolic struggle for the soul of America are the issues and news stories that Americans actually care about.
So How Did We Get Here?
The US political system has been manufactured to give voters two choices -- and only two choices. You can choose red or blue, and if you pick the other side, the consequences could mean the end of the world as we know it.
It's this consequentialist ethics, as the YouTube channel Wisecrack observed in 2016, that marginalizes the voices of anyone who would offer an alternative to the Republican and Democratic Parties.
A person's vote or actions are not judged by their intentions, but by the perceived consequences of said action.
If a voter casts a ballot for a Green Party or Libertarian candidate, they are really inviting the greater evil to win.
Hence the reason why it is called "lesser-of-two-evils" voting.
We are caught in the middle of the biggest battle of good vs evil (at least, that is what we are supposed to think), and the consequences it is having on the American psyche are devastating.
Does it really surprise anyone that a majority of eligible voters in America don't vote in presidential elections? It would be unwise to cast this off as simple apathy. The truth is, millions of voters are left feeling disenfranchised by a system that puts the ongoing battle between two political parties over the interests of voters.
The consequence of a political system that treats elections as a battle between good and evil is that as evil becomes infinite, as the people at Wisecrack observed, the stakes become more dire, and what we are willing to give up to defeat that evil becomes infinite as well. We will do whatever it takes to vanquish the ultimate evil.
One of the greatest examples of how this has shaped political culture in America is the direct comparisons between US political figures and Adolf Hitler. Bush Jr, Obama, Trump, Clinton are just the biggest examples of politicians who have been called the modern day Hitler by groups of people on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
Why? Do a random survey of people, and ask what historical figure they believe best represents pure evil. I'd wager most would say Adolf Hitler. So when the parties engage in an ongoing battle between good and evil, it seems almost inevitable that certain ideological factions would make this comparison -- and it does nothing but damage political discourse.
What would we do to defeat the modern day Hitler? What are people willing to sacrifice? Are people willing to disturb the peace? Threaten people with physical harm? Act out violently? The danger in our current political system is that there are people in society, though a marginal percentage of the population, who would.
The problem is that too many of the powers that be, political operatives, and members of the media don't seem to care about the impact pushing this perception of charged division has on society.
As long as the other side loses in the end or ratings go up, that is all that matters. The ends justify the means.
There Is Hope
Certainly, there are people who have lost hope in the system. These people have checked out completely and refuse to engage in the political process as it has become so divisive and dysfunctional.
However, we should encourage these people not to give up on our institutions. The movement to change the system from one that represents the interest of private political parties to the interests of voters is undergoing historic growth.
Maine made history this year by being the first state to use ranked choice voting for statewide and non-presidential federal primary elections -- an alternative voting system that research shows reduces the amount of attack ads and other negative campaign tactics in elections as candidates no longer go after a voter's first choice, but their second or third.
Local and state governments across the country are being used as laboratories of democracy to improve the quality of elections -- to make them more accountable to the people, and create a healthier, less divisive political landscape.
In Oregon, many voters will have an opportunity to cast a ballot for STAR voting, a new voting method that would allow voters to rate candidates in a race like they would a product on Amazon or their Uber driver -- on a scale of 0 to 5 stars. The two candidates with the highest score move on to an automatic runoff round and the candidate with the highest aggregate score wins.
In Fargo, North Dakota, voters will decide on whether or not they want the city to implement approval voting, arguably the simplest of the alternative voting methods. Voters cast a ballot for as many candidates as they approve of or wouldn't mind getting elected and the candidate with the highest vote count wins.
Anti-corruption initiatives, anti-gerrymandering proposals, and more are popping up nationwide in an effort to create a political ecosystem that puts people first. If we are going to reverse the current course the nation's politics are on, we need to start with reforming the system that created the current environment.
Further, we should hold the media accountable for bolstering the extreme minority to stoke the flames of division, fear, and anger.